James Bond Retrospective #11 - Moonraker
Welcome to the eleventh instalment of Sticky Trigger Entertainment's James Bond 007 Retrospective. We'll be bringing you a new retrospective review each week, covering every Bond film from the official canon, leading up the Australian release of Skyfall in November. Grab your raygun, strap on a spacesuit and get ready to launch into the next adventure of Bond... James Bond.
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writer: Christopher Wood (based on the novel by Ian Fleming)
Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale
In the wake of the Star Wars craze, the makers of the James Bond franchise decided to put the film they already had in development on hold so they could make a movie about James Bond in space. James Bond. In space. Let that roll around in your head for a while and you'll have a firm grasp of why Moonraker is easily one of the worst films in the franchise, because when the mission statement is 'Let's put James Bond in space,' you know the rest of the creative process won't be up to snuff.
R-L: Bond and Goodhead. She probably didn't get teased in high school at all.
The plot sees Bond (Moore) dispatched by the British Government after Moonraker, a space shuttle developed by Drax Industries and on loan to the British, is stolen in mid-air. Suspecting an inside job, Bond investigates Hugo Drax (Lonsdale), the head of Drax Industries, and uncovers a plot that could mean the end of all life on Earth. Sharp-eyed readers will note that in another Bond film directed by Lewis Gilbert, it's a re-tread of the exact same plot as You Only Live Twice and The Spy Who Loved Me, no doubt because it was easier to reuse what worked last time and simply move the setting to space than it was to come up with a new story.
The whole premise is utterly ridiculous. Not that Bond films haven't gone that direction in the past, but what little credibility the franchise had is utterly destroyed for the sake of cashing in on a trend. It didn't earn its big climax or ramp up slowly: from minute one, every Bond cliché and convention is on-screen and being dialled up to eleven. Most viewers will throw their hands up in frustration during the gondola chase, with the most ridiculously contrived assassin in the franchise to date and a gadget that defies all belief, sense and good filmmaking. It's already too much by the time the last half-hour rolls around and Gilbert attempts to recreate the epic battle aboard the Liparus from the previous film, but this time in outer space with Bond as a makeshift astronaut... It's too much. It's too far. Everything's so removed from the franchise we know and love that viewers simply don't care.
Guess who's coming to ruin your movie?
Roger Moore is continuing to age at a normal rate, unlike his character: though still charming and playing the British gentleman to the hilt, he's looking his age. The love scenes come off as creepy and the action is reliant on obvious stage fights. Dr. Holly Goodhead (Chiles) is supposed to be a tough-as-nails CIA agent (a la Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me), but she's maddeningly useless for the entire film, except for some decent fights in the final scenes that come out of nowhere. A special note has to be made of Bernard Lee, who has played M since the first film in 1962. He hasn't received much notice in these reviews, but that's only because he's consistently fantastic as Bond's grouchy but supportive boss that it'd be repetitive and obvious to say it every week. Moonraker would be Lee's last appearance in a Bond film; he passed away in 1981.
The villains are a mixed bag. Richard Kiel returns to play a character that's certainly not Jaws, but just happens to have the same name and appearance. This guy is the subject of dumb gags and a poorly-written romance subplot that ruins most of the action sequences he's involved in. Jaws' appearance in the cold open sets the stage for the entire film, as he swoops in on an impressive mid-air battle and brings the excitement to a crashing halt with dumb slapstick and over-the-top survival. Michael Lonsdale, on the other hand, winds up being the best thing about the film. His French accent and mannerisms are heavily underplayed, and his instructions to kill people in creative and cruel ways are delivered in a sly, controlled manner. The performance single-handedly builds up a portrait of a cruel, sadistic but somewhat repressed individual, and makes Drax far scarier than anything in the hammy screenplay.
'You couldn't let me be the villain in a better movie?'
Moonraker is the film that went too far. It's too big, it's too silly, too unwieldy, and by the time viewers have reached the end credits they're sick of the over-the-top theatrics. It looks like the franchise is circling the drain, and when you throw in an ailing Bond, a useless Bond girl and the neutering of the last film's incredibly effective henchman, one almost thinks the end would be a good thing. Thank goodness they were wrong.
Highlight: The mid-air fisticuffs, Jaws' slapstick notwithstanding
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